Concert Reviews

Live Review: Jamie xx at San Francisco’s Bimbo’s 365 Club (7/27)

on July 29, 2015, 12:15pm

Photography by Adrian Spinelli

You cannot know the value of a setlist until you see a show without one. A standard rock show can be judged to a certain extent on the cuts selected by the band: tracks from their newest album, older favorites, and the odd b-side or cover. What songs a band or artist chooses to play is never the only word on how a performance is remembered, but it would be foolhardy to pretend it doesn’t hold some serious weight. A favorite group touring behind (and playing heavily from) a subpar album can certainly soil expectations, just as the opposite can elevate a show into something memorable. Then you have someone like Jamie xx, who subverts this rule to thrilling results.

Taking the stage in front of a very sold-out San Francisco crowd on Monday night, Jamie xx wove together a two-hour tapestry of soul, house, and original compositions that wasn’t an assemblage of songs so much as an undulating soundscape. The set flowed freely, and though it wasn’t improvised, portions of the evening were decided on the fly as Jamie xx dug deep into a nearby box of vinyl. Touring behind his highly acclaimed new solo album In Colour, he shied away from playing many of the record’s tracks in full, instead choosing to tease out familiar notes across his performance, which served the purpose of making an already rabid crowd even more excited.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 1.38.58 AMJamie xx took the stage at 10:30 p.m., launching into a remix of “High Pressure Days” by the Units. Right away, he boiled the song down to percussion and vocals before building it back up into a throbbing melodic cacophony. From there, 120 minutes of extended disco samples, pulsating jungle beats, and throwback techno seeped into one another in a fluid performance that wasn’t always blaring but was certainly never quiet. Those in attendance were highly receptive, pumping their fists and filling the dance floor for an evening that many had clearly been eagerly anticipating since the date was first announced.  After all, this show was moderately priced and stashed away in a small-capacity venue with a largely dormant calendar (aka a fan’s dream come true). Indeed, for some, it was the true end to the weekend, marred only slightly by the presence of a workday that gave way to the crown jewel that was Jamie xx’s set. Not many artists could hit a venue on a Monday night and get the kind of reaction Jamie xx elicited, but the energy and enthusiasm was his for the taking as soon as he donned his headphones.

One of the evening’s highlights was undoubtedly when he sampled Carmen McRae’s “I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco”, a tongue-in-cheek number from 1968 that served both as lip service to a crowd always eager to hear the name of their city spoken aloud and a wonderful throwback track to use as a base for his phonic gymnastics. Watching a sea of young people move to a voice that otherwise might never have reached their ears is precisely what makes Jamie xx’s work so captivating.

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The snobs among us are eager to classify EDM as repetitive, derivative “wait for the bass” white noise, but that’s akin to deciding all hip-hop music sounds like Flo Rida. The type of music Jamie xx creates, at least the kind he created on Monday night, is difficult to distill on a moment-by-moment basis, but heard as a single, unstopping composition spanning multiple hours, it is something truly remarkable. Sure, the musical elements emitted from his table are not being performed live, but the experience certainly is. There is impressive work being done on the stage at a Jamie xx show, and it’s a reminder to all members of the EDM genre that your song can only bang as hard as the person dropping the needle on it.

Speaking of bangers, there was perhaps no bigger moment than closer “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”. The track, off In Colour, was perhaps the most concentrated dose of vocals heard in Jamie xx’s set. Choosing it as his swan song functioned nicely as a bridge between the more abstract passages that had come before and the rapidly approaching moment when the strobes would stop, the smoke would dissipate, and our momentary vacation into beat-laden bliss would turn back into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. But before all that happened, there was still time to dance, to move along with the guy with the perfect coif of scruffy brown hair up on stage, and to relish in the momentary absence of anything being set: the next day’s plans, the Uber to get home, even the next song he’d choose to play.

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